The lecture I presented at the Critical Theory Workshop’s Summer Program in Paris is now available here on the CTW’s website. It is entitled “Toward a Counter-History of French Theory,” and it took place on July 15, 2019.
The intellectual world is by no means immune to this logic [of the cult of novelty]. A preoccupation with the latest trends drives the global theory industry, which packages and sells what it proclaims to be cutting-edge contributions to thinking. Knowledge that is scientifically anchored in deep, collective traditions—such as the materialist heritage of Marxism and anarchism—is often considered to be vulgar and passé, unless it is spiced up with modish vocabulary, references to the established brands of the star system, and deferential homage to the totems of trendiness. Although these structures and tendencies are more difficult for some to see in the products of high culture than in their low culture equivalents, it is important to recognize that this is due to the very social logic of “high” culture, which brands itself as free from vulgar determinants like class and consumerism. However, aside from this marketing exception—or, rather, this marketing of exceptionalism—the patterns are largely the same.
This pressing and frenetic temporality of consumerism—which in the case of intellectual production consistently peddles “the latest” rather than “the truest”—complements the capitalist urgency of short-term gains. Long-term consequences, like ecocide or the destruction of human life, are of no importance to the imperative of making as much as possible, as quickly as possible. “In every stock-jobbing swindle,” Karl Marx presciently wrote, “everyone knows that some time or other the crash must come, but everyone hopes that it may fall on the head of his neighbor, after he himself has caught the shower of gold and placed it in secure hands. Après moi le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Capital therefore takes no account of the health and the length of life of the worker, unless society forces it to do so.” Continue reading
My latest article, “Foucault, Genealogy, Counter-History,” was just published here in Theory & Event (click here for a pdf). It is the result of long years of wrestling with genealogy in Foucault and Nietzsche, discovering its enormous limitations, and attempting to elaborate a materialist counter-history that both overcomes them and allows for a more politically trenchant form of historical critique.
This article examines the force and limitations of genealogy in order to develop a practice of counter-history that is capable of both overcoming its inherent problems and providing a more trenchant mode of critico-historical engagement. Using Foucault’s well-known essay on Nietzsche as its methodological centerpiece, it begins by elucidating the latter’s powerful contribution to the historical analysis of values, while also foregrounding the quasi-naturalized morality of genealogy that structures it. Against this backdrop, it examines Foucault’s symptomatological distinction between two opposed and normativized conceptions of origin in Nietzsche—Herkunft and Ursprung—in order to both explicate Foucault’s unique appropriation of Nietzschean genealogy and demonstrate its limits through the striking fact that this originary textual symptom of “properly Nietzschean” genealogy does not actually exist in the text. The remainder of the article draws on certain genealogical resources while challenging the historical order undergirding them in order to propose an alternative logic of history that takes into account its constitutive multidimensionality and the multiplicity of agencies at work in any conjuncture. It dismantles, in this way, the very framework that renders historical origins possible, as well as streamlined moral narratives of genealogical inversion, thereby parting ways with the moralities of genealogy in favor of the politicization of values.
“Given the individualist, libertarian tenor of Foucault’s work, his genealogical anti-morality tales are more keyed to personal, local and partial modifications than to systemic political changes, particularly those that are revolutionary and anti-capitalist. Care of self, we might say, generally superseded care of society, at the risk of developing parasitic practices that could only work within given systems rather than radically reconfigure them. Indeed, he preferred the interstitial work of the ‘specific intellectual’ who intermittently drew on his particular areas of expertise to intercede in public debate (rather than being consistently dedicated to collective political organizing). In this sense, he follows Nietzsche in understanding genealogy as a moral project of historical introspection. Although it might, and often does, contain certain political elements in its diagnoses, it is generally opposed to—and normatively codes as ‘bad’—the systemic remedy of collective social action.”
I had the opportunity to discuss the current French strike and contextualize it in relationship to global class struggle on “Keeping Democracy Alive with Burt Cohen.” Click here to listen (description below). This discussion is partially based on my article in CounterPunch, “Understanding France’s General Strike in the Context of the Yellow Vests and Global Class Warfare.”
There’s been no coverage in America of the extended turmoil engulfing France since early December. But it is huge, and it is a major intensification of a worldwide struggle against neoliberal globalism. As Macron’s government and so many others aim at privatization of public services protestors are shutting down the French economy. On this show France expert Professor Gabriel Rockhill explains how the current labor action arises from the context of the Yellow Vest movements. And how established labor leaders are being overpowered by the rank and file who demand a genuinely democratic government instead of top down austerity. And how have the police reacted? According to Rockhill, France has greatly increased its police budget and they are now at the cutting edge of advanced militarized police technology. The police regularly attack peaceful crowds, a lot of injuries have occurred. And he explains that this economic and political struggle is part of the global fight against climate change, protecting the bioshphere for humans and other species.
France’s public sector strike against pension reform is in its seventh week, the most serious such strike in French history. It fits very well in the context of the global revolt against neoliberalism, says Prof. Gabriel Rockhill.
Excerpt: “The credibility crisis of the Macron regime is thus connected to a broader legitimacy crisis for the international system of pseudo-representative governments working for the capitalist class. As William I. Robinson has explained in books like Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity, the transnational elite has sought to establish a neoliberal consensus in the era of globalization, which has required the mobilization of a social base that consensually supports it. Although the ruling class has succeeded in integrating the upper-echelons of society and organic intellectuals through ideological and material rewards, the system of global capitalist accumulation has simultaneously undermined the basis for wider hegemonic rule by stripping the popular classes of the material base necessary for their consent. In this regard, the widespread discontent with Macron’s “government of the rich” is indicative of a broader crisis of legitimacy for the global elite technocracy, which is tasked with maintaining or increasing capitalist accumulation while pacifying or subduing all of those who suffer from it.”